I’ve just read Robert Kennedy and His Times, by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (Houghton Mifflin, 1978). I was 11 years old when Robert F. Kennedy was killed. Since then my admiration for him has grown stronger, and my belief that our country would be fundamentally different had he become president even deeper.
Bobby’s life should especially inspire those of us in education. He loved young people, and they were naturally drawn to him. He was eager and able to grow as a person throughout his life. Without fear, he sought out people of different backgrounds, connecting at a profoundly human level even with those who were initially most hostile. He believed that learning and intellect realized their greatest power when lived in service to others.
See his extemporaneous remarks in Indianapolis on the night of Dr. King’s assassination. As Bobby addressed the crowd, he shared his own pain of loss and quest for wisdom, quoting from memory a passage of Aeschylus.
Speaking to students living under apartheid in South Africa in 1966, Bobby said: "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."
As teachers and learners, what better mission can we have than to empower young people — the many who will change a small portion of events and the few who will bend history itself?
Clarence R. Wyatt is president of Monmouth College, in Illinois.